By: Allan M. Siegel
The number of elderly individuals who reside in nursing homes or receive
assisted care has increased significantly in recent years. With aging
Baby Boomers and more of these services becoming available, those numbers
are only expected to increase. As such, seniors and families making the
decision to opt for nursing care over other options, such as living with
relatives, need to feel confident their safety will be ensured. Although
many Americans make this decision because they believe it is the best
and safest option, that is not always the case.
Most people know that
nursing home abuse can take many forms, from sheer neglect to physical violence to financial
exploitation. They may also know that it can and does happen, with roughly
1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 having experienced some form of elder
abuse, according to the National Council on Aging. Few, however, find
the idea of sexual abuse against nursing home residents anything but unthinkable.
According to a recent
CNN investigation, journalists have found that sexual abuse and assault in nursing facilities
is more common than most think.
In its investigation, CNN analyzed troves of state and federal data and
conducted interviews with regulators, experts, and victims’ families.
Although the nature of sexual abuse makes it difficult to determine how
many victims there are, it is clear that the problem is more widespread
that it is openly discussed.
Additionally, investigators found that there are systemic failures when
it comes to preventing or stopping the abuse. Here are a few reasons why:
Negligence – In some cases, nursing homes fail to uphold their legal obligations
of taking reasonable measures to protect the safety of elderly residents.
From failing to identify warning signs to failures when it comes to taking
action, negligence can allow sexual abuse to occur and persist without
consequence. Often, nursing homes are slow to investigate and report allegations
due to a reluctance to believe them. Because any reasonable person would
take action when claims of sexual abuse are raised, this constitutes a
clear breach of duty. In fact, CNN found that over 1,000 nursing homes
in its investigation were cited for mishandled suspected cases of sexual abuse.
Concealment – As it has been the case with other instances of sexual abuse in
institutional settings, there may be willful attempts to conceal abuse.
This often stems from the top-down, when those in positions of authority
actively cover up reports of abuse and encourage employees to do the same.
Victims – Nursing home abuse can be difficult to detect and stop in large
part because victims are in vulnerable states of health. For example,
officials often have a difficult time protecting elderly victims who are
not able to remember what happened, speak about the incident, or identify
their perpetrator, either as a result of shame or various cognitive deficits
that come with aging.
Law enforcement – Law enforcement and government officials also play a role in the
systemic failures of stopping sexual abuse. In cases reviewed by CNN,
investigators found that police also sometimes view claims as unlikely,
or run into difficulties when interviewing victims with failing memories
or disjointed allegations.
Regulators – Failures in government oversight of nursing homes also make it
easier for abuse to persist. This is often due to the high standards required
for substantiating abuse, and failures to identify patterns of repeated
allegations against individual caregivers.
The CNN investigation goes on to detail stories of victims who were sexually
abused in nursing homes. Many of these stories share the common theme
of victims and families being failed by multiple parties and at multiple
stages of intervention, from initial allegations and reports to actions
taken, or not taken, by nursing homes and law enforcement.
Perhaps the most consistent theme in stories of nursing home abuse is that
predators and wrongdoers know that elderly residents are easy prey. This
fact alone should shape the policies and processes for dealing with nursing
home sexual abuse in a different way, and to prioritize the safety of
residents who may fall victim to repeated abuses or abuses committed by
a single caregiver. Like most difficult endeavors, these changes don’t
always happen easily or quickly, which is why victims and families often
turn to the civil justice system in order to make their voices heard.
By pursuing civil nursing home abuse claims, victims and families have
a forum to state their case and explain why the conduct and failures of
nursing homes led to abuse. In addition to providing the opportunity for
victims and families to secure justice and compensation for their damages,
these civil lawsuits also play an invaluable role in raising awareness,
holding at-fault parties accountable, and sparking the changes that are
so desperately needed when it comes to better detecting and stopping sexual abuse.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Washington, DC nursing
home abuse attorneys have extensive experience representing victims of
abuse and sexual assault, and we are passionate about harnessing the power
of the civil justice system – both for our clients and for the general
public. By helping victims and families make their voices heard and securing
justice on their behalves, we can play an important role in highlighting
the need for a better system that doesn’t continually fail to protect
If you have questions regarding elder abuse in Washington, DC, Maryland,
or Virginia, our legal team is readily available to discuss your rights
Contact us for a free and confidential consultation.